Citizens Advice services in East Sussex today published a report “It’s Just Not Fair” on the experiences of their clients claiming Personal Independence Payments (PIP) and Employment Support Allowance (ESA) – benefits aimed at supporting those living with disabilities and long term health conditions.
Their clients’ experience shows a system that is simply not fit for purpose – medical assessment processes that can humiliate and prejudge, delays of over a year in resolving claims and processes that seem almost designed to make applicants give up. In short when a claim for PIP or ESA goes wrong, the time it takes to resolve it and the impact on clients, who by virtue of their health or disability are in need of additional support, are more significant than for any other benefit.
Kay Birch, Chief Executive of Wealden Citizens Advice said:
The treatment some of our clients have experienced is truly shocking. Medical assessors completing assessments before they have even seen the client; a housebound client relying on oxygen being expected to travel to his assessment centre on public transport carrying an oxygen cylinder with him; clients who have been in receipt of support for long term conditions for years suddenly cut off and the resulting appeals taking 15 to 16 months to be resolved. Without the ongoing support of local Food Banks, many of our clients would not have been able to cope.
The report proposes a number of recommendations, including:
- Simplifying the application process.
- Making the medical assessment process accessible, fair, delivered to quality standards by suitably trained assessors with the individual’s circumstances listened to.
- Tackling the excessive delay in the system.
- Tackling errors earlier so applicants do not have to go through a lengthy and stressful appeal process unnecessarily, at significant cost to the taxpayer.
The report has been sent to all MPs in the county and Citizens Advice services in East Sussex urge them to press for action to improve a system that is letting down the very people it is designed to support.
The report provides shocking examples of how clients in need of support are treated, especially when they are asked to transfer from Disability Living Allowance to Personal Independence Payments (PIP).
One local man waited two months for the Department of Work & Pensions (DWP) to reject his claim for PIP. Wealden Citizens Advice helped him apply for a mandatory reconsideration of the decision, the compulsory first stage in any appeal. The DWP took another six months to reject this request. In all this time the client had to rely on food parcels and became isolated from friends and family because he no longer had the bus pass to which his previous benefit had entitled him to. Citizens Advice then helped him submit a full appeal. He finally received a payment (including over £2,000 in backdating) 15 months after his first application. Only 6 months later he had to start the renewal process for PIP all over again. Again the DWP took three months to deal with his claim, during which period payment of the benefit expired, so the client was again left living on a significantly reduced income. The DWP decision reduced his level of benefit, leaving the client back on the treadmill of an appeal. When the first stage mandatory reconsideration of the decision was again rejected, the client gave up, worn down by the process, even though Citizens Advice think he has a strong case.
Wealden Citizens Advice are seeing increasing numbers of clients relying on more than the usual three food parcel maximum because their claim is taking so long to resolve, with these delays also meaning clients are getting into debt on essentials including rent and fuel.
Click to download a copy of the report by the Citizens Advice services of East Sussex on the experiences of their clients claiming Personal Independence Payments and Employment Support Allowance: It’s Just Not Fair.
Wealden Citizens Advice have offices on Croham Road in Crowborough. If you need advice on benefits call 03444 111 444 or visit www.wealdencitizensadvice.org.uk for opening times and online advice.